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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Dan Woike

Anthony Davis embodying a new vibe that has the Lakers surging at the right time

LOS ANGELES — The vibes were sometimes off. And the inconsistent vibes led to inconsistent play.

It wasn't the basketball. It was other stuff that made the Lakers the team that was languishing at the bottom of the West with no momentum and less hope.

If this seems like a harsh criticism, check the source.

This is how Patrick Beverley assessed his former team on his podcast after the Lakers traded the veteran guard to Orlando.

In the time since the Lakers rebuilt their roster, the vibes now? They've been mostly immaculate and the consistent energy has led to consistent play.

There's an interesting question at the core of the Lakers' recent success — 8-3 in their last 11 games.

Are the Lakers such a happy team right now because they're winning or are they winning because they're such a happy team?

"It's both," Anthony Davis said Friday night after the Lakers beat Toronto.

Davis' performance against the Raptors embodied it, the Lakers' best player comfortable with the talent around him as Toronto loaded up its defense in hopes of keeping him corralled.

"He understands what's working, what's not working, what's being given and what's being taken away. And the way he's been playing, teams are perked up," coach Darvin Ham said Saturday after watching film. "They're on high, extra alert towards him and his capabilities and what he's been doing. So, they're going to put one, two, three guys around him at all times.

"… But he's a smart basketball player. He didn't get this far by accident. And the way he's able to navigate all of that and accept what the defense is doing and look for other options... And now, we have a plethora of other options we can go to."

Five Lakers scored at least 10 points while Davis had eight against Toronto. The only time this season he scored fewer points was against Cleveland, when he left the game minutes after tipoff because of an illness.

"Seven shots, five shots, no shots, 20 shots — like, as long as we win, I'm fine," Davis said Saturday on his 30th birthday. "I'm happy. And those guys carried the load a lot last night."

D'Angelo Russell's performance, with 16 of his 28 points coming in the fourth quarter, highlighted the win.

"The way we've tried to play the entire season, the pace of the game, it fits like a hand in glove with the style of play he has individually as a player," Ham said of Russell.

Even LeBron James, who wasn't on the bench for the last two games as he tries to work back from his foot injury, voiced his support, tweeting, "Man I love this team!!!" He posted a package of highlights from Friday's win on Instagram, as well.

"He's seen it. He can tell. He watches enough basketball," Davis said of James. "We talked after the Memphis game, but he's always ... texting us, 'Great win,' things that he sees. So he's involved even though he's getting healthy. But like I said, the energy is great, is very high. Guys are happy. Guys are just happy to be winning."

The vibe improvement inside the locker room has been the result of a combination of factors — the veterans who left, the young players who entered, the increased sense of urgency and a clear collective goal of making the playoffs. The Lakers (33-34) are one game out of sixth place and a guaranteed playoff spot.

"Communication has been our best friend," Davis said.

The ease with which the Lakers have been able to solve problems on the fly has been one of the most obvious changes, the distance between discussion and argument widening since the Lakers rebuilt their roster.

It's why the team is in position to own a .500 record for the first time since Jan. 25, 2022 with a win Sunday against the New York Knicks.

"We dug ourselves a hole. And we're trying to get ourselves out of it," Davis said. "It will be good to be .500 and also just get above it for the first time this year. So it was a rough start but we're changing things around."

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